5 October 2014

Matthew 21:33-46

“Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’” (v. 37)


Some parables that are recorded in the Gospels seem obscure in their meaning. Indeed, at times Jesus seems to tell parables for that very reason (eg Matthew 13:13). Understanding the meaning of the parable is not always to be the experience of all those who hear the words that are spoken.

However, in today's passage, the parable told by Jesus seems impossible to misunderstand. The image of the people of Israel as a vineyard was a familiar one (egIsaiah 5:1-2, 7), and the resulting identification of the characters in the parable flows from that understanding. If the vineyard is Israel, then the landowner is God, the tenants are the religious leaders, the servants are the succession of prophets sent by God and the son of the landowner is indeed the Son of God.

In the Gospel of Mark's record of this parable (Mark 12:1-12), Jesus describes the landowner sending a series of many servants until, "He had still one other, a beloved son" (Mark 12:6). The image of a "beloved son" is a clear link to the words of the voice from heaven spoken at the Baptism of Jesus (Matthew 3:17), but even in the Gospel of Matthew's record of the parable, where the word "beloved" is not included, the identification of the landowner's son with Jesus is difficult to avoid as we read the parable today.

In Matthew's record of the telling of this parable, the reaction of the chief priests and the Pharisees is interesting (verses 45-46). They regard Jesus as a prophet and yet they want to arrest him because they "realized that he was speaking about them". It is only fear of the crowd which stops them immediately acting out at that moment their part in the parable that Jesus has told. Despite their hesitation, the arrest of Jesus will take place in a matter of days (Matthew 26:47-56).

In the Gospels, people react to Jesus in different ways. Some gladly accept his message, some feel challenged by his words, and some have mixed emotions. The question, 'What's your response to the landlord's son?' is still important for us to reflect on today.

To Ponder

  • The Gospel of Matthew records this incident in the week before his crucifixion. Was Jesus trying to provoke his arrest by telling this parable - or was he hoping for a different reaction? What do you think?
  • What, today, is your response to the landlord's son?

Bible notes author

The Revd Chris Blake

Chris Blake is a Methodist minister and principal of Cliff College in Derbyshire. His background is as a biochemist, and he has previously served in Barking and Dagenham as an industrial chaplain, in Dorset in the Wimborne Circuit and as chair of the Cornwall Methodist District.